The Washington Post
ODU professor resigns after firestorm over ‘minor-attracted people’ research
Old Dominion University professor Allyn Walker, whose research into adults who are sexually attracted to minors drew protests and threats, has agreed to step down, Walker and the school announced in a joint statement Wednesday.
Walker, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, had been placed on administrative leave Nov. 16. They now will remain on leave until the expiration of their current contract in May.
Walker’s research into “minorattracted people” and their use of that term had been met with an outcry from students and others online, who claimed that such language destigmatized sex offenders. Walker has maintained that their work was intended to better understand would-be sex offenders and prevent child sexual abuse.
“That research was mischaracterized by some in the media and online, partly on the basis of my trans identity,” Walker said in the statement Wednesday. “As a result, multiple threats were made against me and the campus community generally.”
Walker’s book “A Long, Dark Shadow: Minor-attracted People and Their Pursuit of Dignity,” published in June, challenges “widespread assumptions that persons who are preferentially attracted to minors — often referred to as ‘pedophiles’ — are necessarily also predators and sex offenders,” according to the University of California Press.
ODU students said they learned about the book earlier this month, and Kayla Foster, a senior studying criminal justice, thereafter started an online petition that called for Walker’s removal. Foster told The Post that Walker’s book gave pedophiles “a pat on the back” for not acting on their attractions.
As of Wednesday, when Walker stepped down, her petition had amassed more than 14,000 signatures.
ODU President Brian O. Hemphill said Walker’s resignation would be “the best way to move forward.”
“The safety and security of individual Monarchs and our collective campus are of the utmost importance,” Hemphill said in the statement. “For ODU, these will always remain top priorities as we pursue our mission in a caring, inclusive, and supportive community, one that respects academic freedom and remains willing to discuss controversial ideas in an atmosphere free of intimidation or violence.”
Other researchers, however, defended Walker’s scholarship and had called on ODU’S administration to do more to support them.
A letter addressed to Hemphill and other administrators Monday, signed by more than 60 professors in sexual abuse prevention, mental health, human sexuality and criminology, said the public backlash “reflects a misunderstanding and mischaracterization of Walker’s research.”
“We are strongly committed to creating a world without child sexual abuse,” they wrote. “In order to accomplish this daunting goal both ethically and effectively, it is essential to have a complete understanding of the issue, and this requires dissemination of research findings even when they contradict popular assumptions.”